Sonoma: Force looks for repeat at Sears Point Raceway

John Force Looks for Repeat Victory in Funny Car at Sears Point Raceway SONOMA, Calif. (IMMEDIATE RELEASE) - If John Force didn't exist, drag racing would have had to invent him. How else could the sport have remained such a viable entertainment...

John Force Looks for Repeat Victory in Funny Car at Sears Point Raceway

SONOMA, Calif. (IMMEDIATE RELEASE) - If John Force didn't exist, drag racing would have had to invent him. How else could the sport have remained such a viable entertainment option in an era of revolving door sponsorship, growing competition for the spectator dollar and flagging media interest.

The most prolific winner in NHRA history, Force almost single-handedly kept the sport afloat in the 1990s when the only thing consistently faster than his mouth was his 320 mile-an-hour Castrol GTX-Ford Mustang.

Now, at age 52, Force is proving that, like a fine Sonoma Valley wine, he just gets better with age. Facing the most formidable field of challengers in history, the loquacious one returns to Sears Point Raceway for the FRAM Autolite Nationals, Aug. 3-5, with two more milestones in sight: his 100th career victory and his 11th Winston Funny Car Championship.

The defending champion in the FRAM Autolite Nationals, Force is on a roll once again. He was in the final round in seven of the season's first 11 races, lowered his own NHRA national quarter mile record from 4.788 to 4.763 seconds and will return to Sears Point in a familiar position: atop the Winston point standings.

"We love to come to Sonoma," Force said. "We've had a lot of success (five victories and three runner-up finishes in the last 13 years) and it's a race sponsored by FRAM Autolite, one of the companies that's made it possible for me to make a living at something I really love."

It was at Sears Point last year that Force moved past Jerry Toliver and into the points lead for the final time en route to his eighth straight Winston championship.

Beyond the statistics, though, he has won for himself, his sport and his sponsors the rabid support of millions of blue collar Americans captivated by his self-effacing charm, non-stop banter and willingness to make himself accessible to everyone from race fans to corporate CEOs to the media.

He is the only drag racer ever named Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing, the result of an incredible 1996 season in which he put his 6,000 horsepower hybrid in the final round 16 times in 19 races, won 13 event titles and posted a 65-6 record in individual competition. All are Winston Series records.

How dominant has the once aspiring policeman been? Well, in five different seasons, including the last two, he's won at least 10 NHRA national events. The number of times anyone else in any pro category has won 10 races in a season? Three.

Nevertheless, while he always has possessed the sport's fastest mouth, it wasn't until he hired Crew Chief Austin Coil, that his career really took off. Their partnership, which began in 1985, has been the most productive in history, more successful than Sox and Martin, Candies and Hughes, Reher and Morrison or any other.

Coil has engineered every one of Force's career wins, every Winston championship. Nevertheless, neither Coil nor Force ever could have accomplished individually what they have together.

Force's success in straight-line racing belies his early years on the tour, years of on-track futility and off-track vaudeville.

"Anything for gas money to the next race," Force has said. "Anything" included dressing up as a clown for an appearance at Wendy's, with whom he had a brief sponsor relationship, and as an animated tree for a promotion at an auto dealership.

With no license, no sponsor and no clue, Force used a tax refund check and the money gleaned from an organ his mother-in-law won on television to buy a Vega Funny Car from his late uncle, Gene Beaver. He then hustled a winter booking in Australia using a photo which supposedly showed him racing Dale Pulde and the Mickey Thompson Pontiac at Orange County International Raceway in Irvine.

The photo was staged while both cars were sitting still. In reality, Force hadn't driven a Funny Car until he showed up in Australia where, by pure accident, he became the first to break the 200 mile-an-hour barrier.

"I was a hero," Force said, "until the promoter figured out that we didn't know what we were doing. If it hadn't been for Gary Densham (the newest addition to Force's Funny Car team), I probably wouldn't have gotten out alive. He took us under his wing and got us through it."

Once back in the states, he wanted nothing more than to compete. Becoming an icon was the last thing on his mind. In his first 65 pro starts, he reached the final round nine times - but never made it to the winners' circle. His fortunes began to turn in 1985 with the arrival of Coil and Castrol.

Now, every time he wins, he goes where no one has gone before. Moreover, as long at the fire burns inside him, he will remain the sport's irresistible Force.

-SPR-

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham , Jerry Toliver , Dale Pulde , Austin Coil